Ranking the Villains of the MCU From Best to Worst

Updated on May 31, 2017

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a wonderful job in so many regards. It's hard not to be swept up by how awesome these films are. I am a huge fan, but there's something I've noticed that the films consistently falter on. It's the quality of their villains. This is not always the case, but the villains simply don't get enough screentime or development overall.

Since the Netflix show Jessica Jones starts up the week of this posting, we'll be introduced to a new villain in the MCU, Zebediah Killgrave, also known as the Purple Man. He will be played by David Tennant of Doctor Who fame. Considering how well the main villain in Daredevil was treated, my expectations are high.

Here's my list of villains in the MCU by their quality from best to worst.

Note that I will not be rating any Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Peggy Carter villains as there is a grand number of them, enough to constitute its own list. I am unlikely to make this one.

MCU Villains Ranked Best to Worst

18. Kilgrave
17. Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin
16. Loki
15. Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger
14. Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier
13. Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull
12. Helmut Zemo
11. Arnin Zola/Director Pierce
10. David Banner
9. Thunderbolt Ross.
8. Emil Blonsky/Abomination
7. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket
6. Ultron
5. Ivan Vanko/Whiplash
4. Aldrich Killian/Mandarin
3. Malekith the Accursed
2. Thanos
1.Ronan the Accuser
David Tennant as Kilgrave
David Tennant as Kilgrave | Source

18. Kilgrave

David Tennant does a fantastic job as the main antagonist in Jessica Jones. Even before he does, there's an unmistakable heaviness in the air surrounding him. Whenever Kilgrave's name is uttered, characters become very grave and Jessica herself constantly builds him up. He's not a powerful mastermind and never really has dedicated henchmen to do his dirty work. He's a character of constant action, purposefully pushing people to bring about certain ends. While he could have been a character that uses his power as a blunt instrument, he schemes and is always three or four steps ahead. His relationship with Jessica is undeniable and he seems untouchable for so long. It's finally his obsession over the main character that serves as his weak point.

Despite being a horrible monster, he's humanized, or at the very least shown how his upbringing caused him to turn out the way he did. His way of thinking is justified in his own eyes. He gets the advantage of time from the show to become what he is. Making him a villain in a movie would rob him of so much that makes him great.

Vincent D'Onofrio as the Kingpin
Vincent D'Onofrio as the Kingpin | Source

17. Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin

By far one of the best villains portrayed, the Kingpin has a huge advantage over most others on this list. He has the time span of a television series instead of a single film. We're given considerably more time from his perspective, allowing us to see his views and understand his logic. We understand his fears even. Not only that, but his threat level is huge to the hero (especially considering that Daredevil is a relatively normal hero) both as a mastermind and as a physical threat. He defeated Daredevil in their first confrontation.

You'll see that some of the worst villains lack these qualities.

Tom Middleston as Loki
Tom Middleston as Loki | Source

16. Loki

Similar to the Kingpin, Loki has had considerable screen time and played both villain and short-lived ally in Thor 2. He is not a huge of a threat on his own but he is able to get others to do his dirty work. He's never been a character that can be dealt with just by physically defeating him. He has done what most villains have not and that is win. Also, he's charismatic enough that he eclipses his brother when they're both on screen. When your villain outperforms your hero, that's saying something.

Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane
Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane | Source

15. Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger

The first Iron Man movie is good for a lot of reasons, but one is Jeff Bridges' performance. He plotted to take over the company by killing his late best friend's son, supplied terrorists with weaponry to increase product sales, straight up tells Tony he did it, and steals from Tony while leaving him to die. All of this is done before showing up as the Iron Monger (a scene the Hulk would later imitate in the Avengers) and owning Tony in a brawl that ends in the favor of the hero (in a way that isn't explained.) Aside from his defeat at the end of the film, Stane was in complete control and failed only because of pride (and a confusing tactic.)

Sebastian Stan playing The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes.
Sebastian Stan playing The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes. | Source

14. Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier

You don't need to be an evil mastermind to be a strong villain. The Winter Soldier is not only a huge threat but is shown to be on the same level as the Cap by literally catching his shield. It's fantastic. I consider it a neutral point that he doesn't have motivations. Instead, he is a brainwashed soldier no one really remembers from the first film. Sure, the film itself would have suffered if there wasn't a greater plot than fighting the Winter Soldier but I'm specifically grading this villain in its intended capacity. Sometimes, a simplistic edge is the best.

Hugo Weaving playing the Red Skull.
Hugo Weaving playing the Red Skull. | Source

13. Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull

An earlier, insane version of the protagonist, Skull serves as a dark reflection of the Captain and is foiled by his ambition when paired to the Cap's humility. Sure, he's got a stereotypical plan as a villain (take over the world with a special weapon), but the Red Skull's point in the film is to be the foil to Captain America. In this regard, Red Skull was executed very well.

Plus, I've always found it hard to deny Hugo Weaving some recognition in his roles. He's very good.

12. Helmut Zemo

Zemo's main strength is his secrecy and while he does this well, his payoff is lukewarm. His big plan is somewhat accomplished (the Avengers are broken up) but it's hard to believe there's a lot of on-screen damage. The Avengers will ban together in time to face a true threat (namely Thanos.) However, he is one of the few villains to achieve a certain level of success, so kudos to him.

However, he lacks in nearly every department. Zemo has no charisma, has no specific connection to any of the heroes (merely blaming the organization of the Avengers), and his character could be replaced with nearly any other incarnation of a mastermind villain with a slightly reworked motive.

Alexander Pierce played by Robert Redford
Alexander Pierce played by Robert Redford | Source

11. Arnin Zola/Director Pierce

These two characters are here because of their discrete funneling of Hydra into SHIELD. It's a fantastic twist, even though the characters themselves are more driving forces than they are actual characters. They're not meant to physically engage their opponents and their entire point is to pursue their worldview and world order.

Nick Nolte as David Banner, the protagonist's father.
Nick Nolte as David Banner, the protagonist's father. | Source

10. David Banner

Surprised to see him so high on the list? The Hulk aimed to be a dark film and the story of David Banner highlighted this well. Sure, Daddy Banner demonstrates abilities shared among several traditional Hulk villains. He's largely responsible for Bruce's early transformations, and this is a Hulk that's representative of all the darkness in Bruce's soul, including his repressed memories of his father killing his mother. The film is far from one of my favorites, but in terms of how this villain affects the protagonist, his threat level and his overall goals (absorbing the powers from his son) are very solid. That is more than what other Hulk villains can say.

William Hurt as General Thadeus Ross
William Hurt as General Thadeus Ross | Source

9. Thunderbolt Ross

A staple in the Hulk franchise, Ross is super 2-dimensional. He's a military guy who wants to capture Banner as a possible asset to the military. There's nothing bad about him and he's kind of necessary to the plot. That's it, although he might get more action in Civil War and possibly in his red hue.

The monster Abomination
The monster Abomination | Source

8. Emil Blonsky/Abomination

Polluted by power, Abomination continues to pursue further upgrades for the sake of upgrades. He basically becomes evil for seeking power. The film just needed a comparable opponent for the Hulk to fight.

The Yellowjacket suit
The Yellowjacket suit | Source

7. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket

More of an enemy to Pym than Lang, it's still Lang that beats him. Cross doesn't make sense a lot of the time. He considers his instant goo weapon to be useless except for one scene (in which it was an amazingly effective weapon), he learns how to utilize his shrunken form for the first time when fighting Ant-Man (who's been training in it for half the film), and his whole evil motivation seems to be due to mental instability caused by shrinking without proper protection. He's lame and incosistent, despite having a pretty cool supersuit.

Ultron's face, voiced by James Spader
Ultron's face, voiced by James Spader | Source

6. Ultron

I really wanted to like Ultron, I really did. Instead of an entity that really pushes the heroes to their limit, we get an entity that keeps giving itself a new body despite being beaten each time. First at the Avengers Tower, then by Iron Man mano y mano, then by Captain America (which insinuates that Ultron is weaker than Loki since the latter beat the Cap in the first Avengers), then by Thor/Vision, than offscreen by the Hulk, then the Scarlet Witch, and by Vision again. His plans are convoluted and his whole connection to the Internet is barely touched upon despite being his strongest asset (hello, Skynet.) He's a super disappointing villain despite David Spader's performance.

Mickey Rourke as Whiplash
Mickey Rourke as Whiplash | Source

5. Ivan Vanko/Whiplash

He's disappointing because his goal was to make Stark vulnerable. However, Stark's greatest threat was a medical one in the second film. This villain is outshined by the plot's development before he's even properly introduced. This makes him a failure in almost all accounts. Especially since his actual attack has no effect on the status quo since we're not given any real sense of the damage done to Stark's reputation.

Aldrich Killian played by Guy Pierce
Aldrich Killian played by Guy Pierce | Source

4. Aldrich Killian/Mandarin

It's either the best or worst twist ever (I'm going with the worst.) We go from the potential of an incredibly powerful schemer to a man that can spit fire and regrow limbs. Adequate back story aside (as well as a humourous Ben Kingsley performance), this threat becomes crippled. In addition, he's defeated not by the main hero, but by his secretary/girlfriend who has never used an Iron Man suit before or learned how to utilize Extremis (something the villain has obviously done.)

Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin isn't being rated because he really wasn't a villain. He didn't do anything but play a part for a recording.

Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston
Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston | Source

3. Malekith the Accursed

He's not very original; his goal is to gain power to make his people more important. Aside from this single motivation, he has absolutely no personality. He's just a villain so the movie had one. That's pretty much all I can really say about him.


2. Thanos

Sure, I know he hasn't properly starred in a film yet but hear me out. He's been given constant references and build up but from our perspective, what has he done but fail? He's a figure in the shadow whose name hasn't even been said except for one film (Guardians of the Galaxy.) So far, he's been severely underwhelming.

To the average moviegoer who is unfamiliar with Thanos, all they know is that he's a guy who has a variety of plans to obtain the special artifacts but has repeatedly failed. They don't know who he is, they don't know the extent of his abilities, and apparently Ronan, with a single infinity stone, believes himself to be much stronger than Thanos. He has no connection to any of the characters aside from Gomora and Nebula, but that's a superficial one at best since there's been minimal interaction among them.

The only reason Thanos isn't #1 is because he hasn't properly starred in a film, nor has he been shown to have a direct conflict with any of the characters. No, as much beef as I have with Thanos, he's nowhere near as bad as my first choice.

Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser
Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser | Source

1. Ronan the Accuser

It would be quicker telling you what this character actually does right (he's a very powerful physical threat.) He's presented as a religious radical but the film doesn't discuss or establish the religion. He's a significant part of an alien race that is seen once and only through some kind of futuristic lens, meaning his racial ties are insignificant. He fights one individual before becoming fused with the plot coupon, essentially losing his full status as a villain to become a plot device itself.

The most damage he's able to do in the film is kill a lot of space pirates and Xandarian police, all are characters you can't remember. Groot "dying" isn't really a death, nor was that a direct consequence of Ronan.

He's a villain with no real connection to any other element in the MCU. Sure, Drax says Ronan killed his family but Drax is unstable and his words don't have much weight. After Ronan dies, Drax merely pushes the responsibility onto Thanos. There's Gamora and Nebula, but they're merely hired guns that don't really care about him. Ronan has 0 relation with Star-Lord, Rocket, or Groot.

He's a villain because the movie needed one. Any other character could have occupied this space without changing the film at all. Ronan suffers the most because the film is trying to build a new world away from the traditional MCU while also introducing five new main characters. It's almost inevitable that he's treated this way, but that doesn't change the fact he's an awful villain in a long series of incapable and ineffective villains.

What Do You Think?

Agree or disagree? Who did you find to be the least effective villain thus far in the MCU? Leave your comments below.

Interested in how I rate Fox's X-Men villains? Take a gander.


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      2 years ago

      The Hulk isn't part of the MCU, only The Incredible Hulk and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk is part of it

      Also if you're not going to include Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter villains you shouldn't include the Netflix ones

      Other than that... Great list

    • profile image

      Zach Zook 

      4 years ago

      I love these analyses. I always enjoy reading what you have to say about these and this was particularly interesting. I typically watch a movie for the first time for enjoyment's sake and then watch again with a critical eye. Many of these, I've only seen once and some of it, I wouldn't have thought through. Thanks for putting the time in on this. This is quality.


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